Chivas USA's collective effort

Martin Rogers

"It is amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit."

CARSON, Calif. – The words jump out from the message board in Chivas USA's locker room. They were made famous by President Harry Truman, but it took the reciting of NBA superstar Kevin Garnett for the phrase to catch the eye of Chivas' players.

The quote has helped drive the most impressive underdog story of the Major League Soccer season.

Its relevance to the surprise contenders for the MLS Cup could not be more striking. Chivas' rise up the Western Conference standings is an exceptional example of the magic that can be conjured with team spirit, passion and motivation.

With David Beckham having joined the Los Angeles Galaxy to great acclaim, Chivas was cast as the forgotten cousins in L.A. – a role that has manifested itself in several ways. The team has clearly had a point to prove since its inception in 2004, and it has flourished just as spectacularly outside of the glare of the spotlight as the Galaxy have wilted under it.

For the Chivas supporters, who consider themselves "real" fans of the game, their comparative lack of numbers has also led to greater effort. Songs, chants and colors in the tradition of the famous Guadalajara club have become the norm, and two giant flags covering an entire end of the Home Depot Center were unfurled for recent games.

However, that feeling of needing to go one step further led to some unsavory incidents during last week's victory over the Galaxy. Several smoke bombs were hurled onto the pitch, some landing close to L.A. goalkeeper Joe Cannon, and defender Troy Roberts was struck in the back of the head with a full bottle of water. The incidents prompted an MLS probe into the club's crowd control methods.

Such a scene provides a complex issue for MLS chiefs – and for Chivas. Passion and excitement is why millions around the world love the game, and the enthusiasm the Chivas faithful adds to games is 99 percent positive.

However, there is also the need to stamp out potentially dangerous situations before they become accepted and spiral into something more serious. Passion is to be celebrated, hooliganism is not, and finding a balance is a challenge still faced by many European leagues.

MLS stopped short of issuing a fine or any soccer-related punishment, preferring instead to discuss ways to ensure a repeat does not occur with officials from Chivas and the Home Depot Center. If it does happen again, the league may not be so lenient in the future.

Perhaps the success of this season, compared to the troubles that have befallen the Galaxy, will help to ease the sense of injustice felt by Chivas followers.

"This club is having a bit of an identity crisis," midfielder Jesse Marsch said. "It is a Mexican club but now it is more multi-cultural. There are more Americans and guys from all over the world than in the past.

"We are treated like second-class citizens around here in a lot of ways. At this stadium, some of the Galaxy players have made comments in the past that we are renting the stadium and some of our fans have related to that."

With its Mexican heritage, Chivas fans will simply not accept being told to sit quietly and applaud politely. While he is keen to avoid censure from MLS or the Home Depot Center, co-owner Antonio Cue does not want to nullify the atmosphere that sets his club apart from many in the league.

"We have a fan base who cares about its team," Cue said. "They are a little bit different for the rest, but they are very passionate for the colors of this team. We have that atmosphere as a heritage from Mexico so we better keep it like that and make sure it continues. Three years ago, we were bottom of everything and everyone is a part of getting to where we are."

Maybe the underdog tag is finally ready to be removed. The brief handed to new CEO Shawn Hunter was to appeal to a broader demographic, without losing the ingrained special vibe of the Latino spirit.

Hunter knows one way to help Chivas appeal to a more mainstream audience.

"This is a franchise that could be the second to bring on a second international household name," Hunter said. "This team is as poised as any to take on a superstar because it has got a very strong base of young players.

"The thing is, now we have a lot of these superstars reaching out to us. Does this team need a superstar now? No. But is the table set for one to join? Absolutely."

If a marquee name does arrive, there will undoubtedly be the usual glitzy unveiling and the publicity machine pumping into action. Amid all the madness, though, the new arrival would do well to stop for a moment in front of the locker room board, read Truman's wisdom scrawled on a scrap of brown paper and etch it into his memory.

"You need a good locker room, without big egos," Marsch said. "(The) quote is a great description of what our team has been about. Having a bunch of guys playing for each other and competing and no one cares who gets the glory – that is the best feeling you can have."

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